Black Friday Retail E-mails, Online Traffic Spikes

Posted on by Chief Marketer Staff

American consumers apparently didn’t just hop in their cars and go shopping on Black Friday to get a respite from the annual too-much-family-togetherness that happens for many every Thanksgiving.

Many also turned to their computers.

Retailers’ e-mail activity and traffic to their sites spiked massively on Nov. 28, or the Friday after Thanksgiving, according to two companies that track such activity.

Nielsen Online reported yesterday that Web traffic from home and work to the firm’s Holiday eShopping Index increased 10% year over year on Black Friday, growing from 28.8 million unique visitors in 2007 to 31.7 million in 2008 across more than 120 online retailers.

eBay was the top online retail destination on Black Friday with 9.8 million unique visitors, while Amazon and Wal-Mart followed with 8.4 million and 6 million, respectively, according to Nielsen.

Among the top ten online retail destinations, Circuit City was the fastest growing on Friday, increasing 352% over the previous Friday, Nielsen reported. Best Buy ranked No. 2 with a 196% increase in Web traffic and Target rounded out the top three with a 136% week-over-week growth, according to Nielsen.

And along with the retail Web-traffic growth came coinciding spikes in Black Friday e-mail, according to Email Data Source, a firm that tracks brands’ e-mail marketing, including that of 177 retailers during the last 30 days.

“It’s clear that the highest traffic day by far for all of the retail sites was the 28th [of November] and a lot of that was driven by e-mail,” said Bill McCloskey, president and founder of Email Data Source, in an interview yesterday.

McCloskey said he didn’t have data for yesterday or so-called Cyber Monday yet, so he couldn’t tell immediately how Dec. 1 retail Web-site traffic and e-mail activity stacked up to that of Nov. 28.

Cyber Monday is a term coined by the National Retail Federation in 2005 to refer to the spike in traffic online retailers saw as people got back to work on the Monday after Thanksgiving and took advantage of their employers’ high-speed Internet access. However, there is mounting evidence that with the increased adoption of home broadband, more online shopping is taking place on the weekend after Thanksgiving.

According to consulting firm Deloitte, 36% of consumers surveyed last week said they planned to shop online for gifts over the four-day Thanksgiving weekend. Of those, 72% said they would do so on Friday and 60% said they would do so on Saturday, according to Deloitte.

Meanwhile, Email Data Source’s ranking of the top retailers in terms of traffic and e-mail mirrored Nielsen’s with the exception of eBay, which Email Data Source didn’t include on its list of merchants.

According to McCloskey, some retailers began pitching using the term “Black Friday” in e-mail as early as Nov. 25, with 3% of the e-mails tracked including the phrase. Twenty percent of retail e-mails used the term “Black Friday” on Nov. 26; 16% used the term on Nov. 27; and 54% used it on Nov. 28, or on Black Friday itself.

Interestingly, a smattering of retail e-mails, or 4%, included the term “Black Friday” on Nov. 28, or the day after the event.

Subject-line promotions have varied widely so far this holiday shopping season, but percent-off pitches and other discounts are by far the most popular.

More than 20% of the subject lines of retail e-mails delivered between Nov. 25 and Nov. 30 included a percent sign indicating discounts, 15% included the word “sale” and 10% included the word “savings,” according to McCloskey.

Another popular online promotion this year has apparently been “free shipping” with 11% of retail e-mail subject lines during the time studied including the phrase, according to McCloskey.

Also, of the retail messages Email Data Source tracked between Nov. 25 and Nov. 30, 12% included the word Thanksgiving, and 8% referred to Black Friday.

Moreover, 3% referred to Christmas and 11% used the term “holiday.”

Many believe Black Friday is the biggest offline-shopping day of the year. However, though it is one of the busiest days, the term actually refers to conventional wisdom that says the Friday after Thanksgiving is the day when retailers’ books go from in the red to black for the year.

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